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"If we're going to be consistent and advocate freedom of speech we have to advocate freedom of encrypted speech too. The genie is out of the bottle, cryptologically."
- Neal Stephenson

Cone of Silence  
  Distortion field that limits the carrying power of voice or other vibration; it accomplishes noise reduction with an image-vibration 180 degrees out of phase.  

This is such a great phrase; it only occurs once in the short story.

Abruptly, he froze. in all clarity, every diagram in place, every equation, every formula complete--all spread out in his mind was the instrument he knew could end this war. Uncontrolled shivering took over his body. He swallowed in a dry throat.

His gaze stayed on the screen before him. The two glow spots joined, moved into the tank crater. Hulser bent into the cone of silence at his phone. "This is OP 114. 1 have two greenies at co-ordinates O-6-C-sub T-R. I think they're setting up an OP!"

From Cease Fire, by Frank Herbert.
Published by Conde Nast in 1958
Additional resources -

It appears that the first use of this term is in the syndicated TV show Science Fiction Theatre in an episode titled "Barrier of Silence" written by Lou Huston and first airing September 3, 1955.

This piece of technovelgy is also used to great effect in Dune, Herbert's greatest novel. In the following excerpt, the evil Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and the imperial assassin Count Fenring are having a private conversation at a reception for a gladiatorial contest:

"There's a cone of silence between two of the pillars over here on our left," the Baron said. "We can talk without fear of being overheard." He led the way with his waddling gait into the sound-deadening field, feeling the noises of the keep become dull and distant.

The Count moved up beside the Baron, and they turned, facing the wall so their lips could not be read.

This is an idea that has found some practical applications. Many people use noise reduction equipment or noise suppression earphones or headsets while traveling on jets. I'm not aware of any devices of this kind that provide a space in which noise is suppressed. I don't think anything was available to consumers in 1965.

For those who remember 1960's television, the series Get Smart actually featured a device called a "cone of silence" that looked like a pair of linked bubbles; in keeping with the comedic style of the show, it never worked.

You might want to check out a similar idea - a "hush corner" - published by Robert Heinlein about two years earlier in Double Star, as well as the Fenton Silencer from an early Arthur C. Clarke story. Also, the isolation barrage from Wandl, The Invader (1939) by Ray Cummings.

Special thanks to Bob Bogle, who wrote in with the earlier Cease Fire reference.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Cease Fire
  More Ideas and Technology by Frank Herbert
  Tech news articles related to Cease Fire
  Tech news articles related to works by Frank Herbert

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